A rare, color-changing gem, alexandrite is an emerald green in daylight, but takes on a deep red hue when seen under incandescent lighting. Chromium ions in the crystal structure intensely absorb yellow light, causing the unique and impressive shift in the color spectrum.
Alexandrite is a variety of chrysoberyl, which was first discovered in 1789. According to popular legend, alexandrite was named in honor of Tsar Alexander II of Russia by Finnish mineralogist Nils Gustaf Nordenskiöld, after re-examining a sample from the Ural Mountains.
Alexandrite from the original mine, now long since closed, is highly prized on the gemstone market as only a few other areas have been known to produce the rare gem, including Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka. These, however, lack the dramatic hue shift seen in the Russian variety, and any piece to be certified to have Russian origins significantly increases in value.
Up until 1987, it was very difficult to find quality alexandrite, when suddenly a major find was made in Brazil. Called Hematita alexandrite, from its place of origin, this new strand retained the gem’s color-changing property and helped re-invigorate the market – though quality pieces are still relatively expensive to work with.